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CANBERRA – New Zealand’s new prime minister, Chris Hipkins, has said he will not stop criticizing China when necessary.

Hipkins traveled to Australia on Tuesday to meet Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for the first time since taking power. He took office in late January following the resignation of former prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

Speaking at a press conference in Canberra, Hipkins said China was a “very important” trading partner for New Zealand, but added that there were areas where the two governments “sometimes disagree”.

“If that happens, we will continue to express our disagreements with China,” he said.

Mr Albanese agreed with Mr Hipkins’ comments that Australia would cooperate with China “as far as possible” but would oppose “if it had to”. “We are in the national interest,” he said.

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner, far ahead of Australia and the United States. In recent years, the New Zealand government has struggled to balance its allies’ security concerns over the Chinese government with its own vital economic interests.

Hipkins has previously said that a visit to China is high on his priority list ahead of New Zealand’s general election in October.

Asked in Canberra whether New Zealand would still be interested in joining the Aukus Security Partnership, now between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, Hipkins said the government’s position had changed from Ardern’s. said no.

“Australia, the US and the UK are very important security partners for New Zealand,” he said. “But our non-nuclear policy has not changed.”

Albanese also said further details about the shape of the Oaks submarine deal would be announced soon after Australian Defense Minister Richard Mars recently met with the defense minister in Washington.

“I am very confident in the progress Aukus is making. It is a positive move,” said New Zealand and Australian prime ministers say they will express differences with China

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